The Brisbane Broncos have earned a spot in the 2014 finals series. Sure, it came off the back of a Penrith victory over the New Zealand Warriors on Sunday night, and yes, coach Anthony Griffin’s calculator has probably run out of batteries trying to work out mathematically how his team could make it. But a win’s a win and Brisbane is gearing up to finish 2014 with a bang.
Admittedly, the Broncos have not made life easy for themselves in 2014 – at times they’ve been their own worst enemy – but they have proved that they can match it with the premiership heavy weights, with narrow losses to the minor premiers Sydney Roosters and South Sydney, and a 36-10 drubbing of Manly.
Most experts had tipped Brisbane to miss the finals in season 2014, some of them going as far as predicting a bottom-four finish. Now that they have silenced the critics by finishing in the top eight, let’s run through the top eight reasons while the Broncos can: 1) beat the Cowboys in Townsville Saturday, and 2) have teams fearing them again, as if it was the 1990s.
8. Doing it for ‘Hook’ – Midway through this year, it was announced coach Anthony Griffin would be replaced by the spiritual father of the Brisbane Broncos, Wayne Bennett. This move had both positive and negative effects on the playing group. Sure, Bennett’s return is a massive boost for the club, but it’s left a sour taste in the mouth of the younger guys in the team. Prior to his role with the first grade side, Griffin was the NYC coach at Brisbane. At the time, Griffin not only coached the likes of Matt Gillett, Ben Hunt, Josh Hoffman, Alex Glenn and the retired Jharal Yow Yeh, he formed a special father-like bond with them, giving each of them their initial taste of first grade. They will be out to repay Hook.
7. No fear – Brisbane has nothing to prove. In hindsight, they really shouldn’t be in the eight. The top six teams are expected to perform. Constant media scrutiny, passionate fans and rigorous training sessions can derail teams in an instant. The Broncos sit quietly out of the spotlight, the “sleeping giants” if you will; no pressure to perform, having already been written off. The boys will thrive on this – they will fear no team they encounter. Expect to see some razzle-dazzle footy.
6. Ben Hunt – This kid is getting better with every touch. I’m sure he’s a clone of the eighth Immortal Andrew Johns. While he will have the toughest assignment of all on Sunday – facing off against the world’s best player, Johnathan Thurston – I solemnly believe Hunt is ready. Although the Broncos lost to Melbourne in the last round, Hunt’s performance was dynamice. The maturity he displays on the field is starting to mirror that shown by Darren Lockyer. A cool head, a brilliant creator – I can’t praise this kid enough.
5. The record – I’m not a superstitious person (touch wood). But the cold, hard facts are, North Queensland have a terrible record against their ‘big bother’. Since their inception in 1995, North Queensland has only managed seven wins against Brisbane. In Townsville, the record is equally poor, with three wins, one draw and 14 losses against the Broncos. You might think that stats mean nothing, but in this instance the writing’s on the wall.
4. Big Sammy returns (and he’s fired up) – Sam Thaiday’s miserable form at the judiciary continued last week. The Test forward was suspended for a questionable crusher tackle on St George Illawarra Dragons forward Will Mathews in their Round 25 clash at Suncorp Stadium. The result: a one-match ban, meaning he was unable to face archrivals Melbourne. Brisbane missed his strong running on the fringes. Not only is Sammy a club legend, he has a special aura while he’s on the field. It’s very much like the effect Allan Langer had on the side throughout the 1990s. He’s a massive inclusion.
3. Sydney? No dramas – Unlike the Cowboys, Brisbane don’t fear playing in Sydney. If Brisbane is to make it past the Townsville showdown, the next encounter will be against the loser of the Panthers-Roosters clash, which will be played in Sydney. Currently, the Broncos have five current Origin players in its top 17 (Hodges, Thaiday, Parker, Hannant, Gillett) and an extended Maroons squad member in Hunt. Not only will there be no fear, the Broncos will be champing at the bit to win one in enemy territory. Boo all you want cockroaches, you’re a massive help.
2. Cowboys are desperate – There are three clubs in Queensland and only one of those teams has tasted premiership glory. The Cowboys are desperate for Grand Final success, making them extremely vulnerable. The 2005 experience still tastes bad in the mouths of those who played in that losing Grand Final to the Tigers, while the Broncos, on the other hand, have six premierships (from as many decider appearances) in the cabinet. The last was in 2006, a Grand Final victory that four current Broncos played in (Hodges, Parker, Hannant and Thaiday).
1. Cometh the hour – The main reason I feel the Broncos are true contenders in 2014: JUSTIN HODGES. I think that’s all I need to say on that one.
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